Farmers wanting to diversify with a value-added crop in 2019 should look no further than the vineyard.
Tennessee’s wine industry contributes greatly to the state’s annual economy, plus provides many job for Tennesseans.
As of 2017, Tennessee had a total of 67 wine producers, a number that has tripled since 2002, with approximately 488 acres of vineyard. Those numbers are only growing.
“There is so much potential for our industry to grow. Right now, there is a sound business path for a commercial grower to see between $3,377 and $4,895 of profit per acre by the fourth year. If they chose to become a farm winery, then they would see even larger returns,” says Adam Acampora, executive director of the Tennessee Farm Winegrowers Alliance (TFWA), a coalition of the state’s wineries, farm wineries and vineyards. Unlike commercial wineries, farm wineries possess a special license to grow their own grapes, produce wine and then sell it on site.
In fact, the wineries and vineyards marketplace is so undersaturated, Acampora believes “there is a chance to see a real boom in the next five to eight years by newcomers capitalizing on the untapped opportunities within the industry.”
From the best-known grapes like cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot and pinot noir, to the more prominent local grapes like chambourcin and muscadine, Tennessee is presently home to over 30 varietals of grapes grown commercially – leaving lots of options for growers. However, newcomers and seasoned growers alike often opt for the helpful resources and support provided by TFWA and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA).
Tapping Into a Network of Resources
Challenges faced by local vineyards are vast and include legislation, funding, research and development, business development, marketing and quality assurance, to name a few. This is where TDA and TFWA can help.
For example, after hearing from growers statewide that one major challenge is finding viable sales outlets, TDA helped fund the creation of The Marketplace, a virtual grapes, wine and fruits exchange platform, which is managed by TFWA.
In addition, there’s the Pick Tennessee Products directory and Pick TN Conference, as well as numerous wine festivals hosted by TFWA, all of which allow small farm wineries to find new customers and build brand awareness.
To this end, TDA recently helped fund the purchase of a grape harvester, an $85,000 piece of equipment which offers labor-saving benefits for wineries big and small.
Cellar 53 Winery and Villa Nove Vineyards
Rebecca Paschal of Cellar 53 Winery in Smith County credits the knowledge of other industry members as well as the support from TDA’s Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program (TAEP) for their transition from grower to winery.
“Without TDA’s help, this farm most likely would not be 104 acres of vineyards, pastures and woodlands, but instead a multi-house subdivision,” Paschal says.
Instead, visitors get to enjoy delicious wines, like one produced with 100 percent estate-grown chambourcin grapes aged in whiskey barrels – all while learning about the family’s passion for farming.
Looking to the future, Paschal believes growth will continue with “smaller farm wineries like ours who grow their own fruit and make boutique wines. You can produce remarkable wines with our soil.”
At Villa Nove Vineyards, nestled in the Appalachian High Country with its breathtaking views, owner Linda Gay feels “the wine industry in Tennessee is just beginning to recognize growth that has been aided by a few positive pieces of legislation in the state.”
“Tennessee now has several wine trails [and] northeast Tennessee has been designated an American Viticulture Area,” Gay says. “TDA has been instrumental in helping us achieve growth over the past seven years. In particular, TAEP has helped us in the planting of additional grape vines and needed infrastructure.”
With so much support behind growers every step of the way, there’s no doubt that the future holds even more winners in the vineyards.